When people ask me what major lessons I learned while conducting interviews of new converts, my first thoughts go to the reality of pain, regrets and guilt among the youth. Many of them talked about struggles, hurts, and wounds. And most of those difficulties pointed to sex. This generation has a lot of sex, watches a lot of porn, experiences a horrific amount of abuse, and can’t quite figure out how to think about this ever-present-but-seldom-joyous issue of sex.

Evangelism today occurs in a world that is drowning in sexual problems, misunderstandings, and a hardening against the gospel as a result.

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when people rebelled against the “traditional” view of sex (i.e., it was to occur only within lifelong, heterosexual marriage), people knew they were rebelling! They thought the old ways were constrictive, repressive, and boring. They saw their experiences as liberating, avant-garde, and revolutionary. But, somehow, they still considered their practices as non-normative.

Today’s college students are so far removed from that time, they think their hooking up culture is the norm. Many had lost their innocence and life through social media outlets. They can’t imagine why or how anyone would or could wait until marriage for sex. There’s no reason they shouldn’t take birth control pills, carry condoms, and know where to get an abortion if an “accident” should occur. The ones having sex on the first, second, or third dates (certainly no later than that!) think they are the norm and would feel guilty if they weren’t in bed that early in a relationship.

And yet the painful expressions on their faces, the shameful tones in their voices, and their bewilderment at how such a “natural” act has delivered such pain haunts me even after concluding my face to face interviews.

They had sex because they felt they had to, pressurizes to, even if they didn’t always feel like they wanted to. A few men expressed profound disappointment that sex left them feeling “empty,” “lonely,” and “aching.” Women freely offered confessions of doing things they wish they hadn’t. Some said they now realize they were raped, even though they didn’t think so at the time and participated fully. And several said they “wondered what was wrong with me” if they didn’t want to join in the “hook-up-with-as-many-people-as-possible” culture.

Both men and women told me they felt relieved when they became a Christian, met a group of peers who thought sex should be postponed until marriage, and didn’t feel pressure to repeat things they now regret. In a few interviews, I said they didn’t need to tell me things they didn’t want to and, in most cases, they said they felt better after confessing out loud what had haunted them for a while. Quite a few of my interviews required tissues.

How does this impact our evangelism efforts? Here are a few reflections, but I think the church needs to do a lot of brainstorming about ways to alter our pronouncement of the good news to an audience involved in, pressured by, and damaged by sex outside of God’s parameters.

For a host of reasons, the church has sometimes thought shallowly about sex, going no further than “thou shalt not.” That hasn’t served us or the people we want to reach very well. We now need to reflect deeply about the beauty of God’s gifts and the power of cleansing offered through the gospel to those who need it so desperately.

Freely give!